The Center for Science and Society grows out of the conviction that the questions that will determine the future survival of humanity are of a new kind that cannot be answered by the method of the natural sciences or the humanities in isolation from each other. The Center thus aims to create a new paradigm of collaborative inquiry between the natural and social sciences and the humanities. Natural scientists and scholars informed by the perspectives and methods of the humanities, brought together under the umbrella of the Center, carry out collectively conceived research, teaching, and public programming to formulate new perspectives and innovative scholarship, and further public understanding about the role of science in society.
The heart of the Center is formed by six inaugural Research Clusters led by Columbia and Barnard faculty currently engaged in the study of science and society. These projects are designed to maximize collaborative research among a variety of disciplines, and to lay the foundation for joint teaching and curriculum development.
History of Science at Columbia University
Columbia and Barnard have a constellation of faculty members located in a variety of departments and institutes whose research and interests lie in the historical development of scientific knowledge and in the processes—technical, social, political, intellectual, material and cultural—by which knowledge has been acquired, disseminated, and employed. We have particular depth in late medieval, early modern European and twentieth century US history of science, public health, and medicine.
Training in the history of science at Columbia does not occur in a department or program isolated from history proper. Students pursuing history of science do so while pursuing a regional and chronological area of specialization. While being trained in the broader chronological sweep of the history of science and medicine and the distinctive methodologies of the history of science, students receive training in more general historical methods, and are thus well prepared to enter the job market for positions in general history departments, as well as those in the history of science.
Our approach to the history of science, medicine, and technology encourages the development of histories of science and medicine grounded within histories of intellectual and material culture, the transmission of knowledge, the global circulation of knowledge, objects, instruments, and technologies, and the interaction of knowledge, politics, and power. We aim to train scholars able to integrate the history of science, medicine, and of knowledge-formation into larger regional histories, with comparison among areas of the world and consideration of the international dynamics of knowledge-production strongly encouraged. The strength of the faculty at Columbia and Barnard in international and world history facilitates such comparative and international perspectives.
In addition to training historians of science, we offer historians of all regions and periods powerful tools for historically understanding the roles of science as significant force within modern societies with ramifications of all kinds—social, intellectual, cultural. Far from isolating the history of science from history, we work to include science in a more substantial way in survey teaching and graduate training in history more generally.
The University Seminar in the History and Philosophy of Science regularly brings prominent scholars to campus, as does the Metropolitan New York History of Science Society Section, a new consortium for the History and Philosophy Science that joins the faculty and resources of Columbia University, NYU, and CUNY. New York City contains an extremely rich set of institutions and libraries (New York Public Library, New York Academy of Medicine, New York Academy of Science, Bard Graduate Center, CUNY Graduate Center) and a concentration of scholars interested in historical epistemology and the history of science and medicine, as well as the links between intellectual and material culture, and the global circulation and flow of knowledge. We encourage students to develop research projects that draw upon these institutions and scholars.